Felix Cavaliere has been around for a long time. He began his musical career as a member of Joey Dee and The Starliters who capitalized on the twist craze of the late 1950s. It was as a member of the Young Rascals that Cavaliere found his greatest fame. The band produced what became know as blue-eyed soul and had such hits as “Good Lovin,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “Groovin” and “People Got To Be Free.” The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997. Cavaliere would go on to produce Laura Nyro, tour with Ringo Starr and have a credible career as a solo artist. Today he tours with Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals.
Steve Cropper has been around for a long, long time. As a member of Booker T. and The MG’s, he was responsible for creating such hits as “Green Onions” and “Soul Limbo.” He was also a member of the Stax label house band and as such wrote and played on literally hundreds of songs. His catalogue includes “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding, “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave, “Knock On Wood” by Eddie Floyd and “In The Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett. He gained more fame as a member of The Blues Brothers backing band. Today, Cropper continues to be in demand as a session guitarist and tours with The Blues Brothers Band and Booker T. & The M.G.’s. He is widely considered to be one of the best guitar players alive.
Bringing Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere together is a good match. There are no surprises here. Cropper brings his funky, crystal clear guitar sound and Cavaliere brings his soul tinged vocals and competent keyboards.
Let me say up front that Cropper can get the clearest sound out of a guitar. He's better than anyone alive this side of Eric Clapton. Yet, despite that clearness, he delivers a soulful and funky groove that has been synonymous with the Stax Memphis sound for over forty years.
Nudge It Up A Notch begins with “One Of These Days.” It only takes about thirty seconds for Cropper and Cavaliere to settle into a smooth groove. Not only does Cropper have the ability after forty years to back the vocalist without being intrusive, but he is also able to step forward on the breaks and lay down some great guitar work and link the parts of the song together. This song is the Memphis sound at its best and Cavaliere shows he can still provide an excellent vocal.
“If It Wasn’t For Loving You” finds Felix at his best. The backing singers fill in his vocals nicely and Cropper fills the blank spaces with a more rocking sound.
There are four instrumentals on the album. The best of the lot is the brilliant “Full Moon Tonight.” The song has a simple foundation set up by bass and drums. This allows Cropper a lot of room for improvisation yet he always returns to the melody. The “Soul Man” chords in the middle of the song are a creative pleasure. Technically and conceptually this is Steve Cropper at his best. “Love Appetite” features some keyboard-guitar exchanges by Cropper and Cavaliere with subtle brass in the background. “Jamaica Delight” is a song that grew on me. The organ and guitar mimic each other. It is all strange but ultimately creative. “Cuttin’ It Close” is a more rockish presentation against loud brass and is the least successful of the instrumentals.
There is only one song that really misses. Cavaliere does some rap on “Make The Time Go Faster.” He cannot quite make this seem sincere.
The Stax label will release Nudge it Up A Notch on July 29, 2008. The twelve songs are all originals and show that there is still a lot of creativity and virtuosity left in these two legendary artists. File this under funky rock ‘n’ roll at its best.